At a time when many contemporary big bands are veering off-course, too often leaving jazz as we know and understand it as an afterthought, foundering and searching in vain for an anchor, it's comforting to encounter an ensemble that is not only as fresh as today's harvest but upholds such time-honored jazz traditions as melody, harmony and good old-fashioned swing. The band in this instance is led by Canadian-born-and-based composer/arranger Jaelem Bhate, whose debut recording, On the Edge, is, on the one hand, burnished and sophisticated, and on the other, a reminder that laudable big-band jazz rests in large measure on the ability to make stalwart rhythms a centerpiece as it takes the listener on a pleasurable voyage to its bright and musical destination.
Bhate, who hails from Vancouver, B.C., salutes his birthplace with the four-part "Pacific Suite," whose engaging melodies are underlined by tempos that are slow to moderate (indeed, there is nothing on the album that could be miscast as a flag-waver). While Bhate sacrifices celerity for astuteness and depth, the band makes the most of that, wresting every ounce of weight and color from his perceptive charts, from the well-grooved curtain-raiser, "On the Edge," to the tasteful finale, "You Will Be OK." The ensemble's talented rhythm section (pianist Andrew MacDonald, guitarist Ricardo Halabi, bassist Jacques Forest, drummer Duran Ritz) is alert and on its game throughout, as are its well-rehearsed brass and reed components. As for soloists, they too are securely on target, fleshing out the luminous arrangements with adroit and incisive commentary. Tenor saxophonist Steve Kaldestad is called on most often (not a bad choice) with alto saxophonist Brent Mah a close second. Others whose sharp discourses brighten the scene are Forest, Ritz, MacDonald, Halabi, trombonist Kevin Jackson and trumpeters Silas Friesen (showcased on the ballad "When I Was Loved"), Daniel Hersog and Jocelyn Waugh.
It's clear that Bhate lavished abundant care and consideration on his first-ever big-band album, and that diligence has paid handsome dividends. On the Edge is well-designed, smartly performed, admirably recorded and quite pleasing from start to finish.
On the Edge; Wishful Thinking; When I Was Loved; Pacific Suite I: Straits and Narrows; Pacific Suite II: Weeping Skies; Pacific Suite III: Uninhabitation; Pacific Suite IV: Sea of Glass; Strung Along; You Will Be OK.
Brent Mah: saxophones; Mo Miao: saxophones; Steve Kaldestad: saxophones; Ardeshir Pourkeramati: saxophones; Adam Kyle: saxophones; Michael Kim: trumpet; Daniel Hersog: trumpet; Jocelyn Waugh: trumpet; Silas Friesen: trumpet; Kevin Jackson: trombone; Cam Henderson: trombone; Sean Lavigne: trombone; Sharman King: trombone; Louis Lam: trombone; Andrew MacDonald: piano; Ricardo Halabi: guitar; Jacques Forest: bass; Duran Ritz: drums.
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